Finding the strength to meet Dylan’s brilliant blue pools without drowning, Simone forced a smile and said, “Nothing happened. And I’m quite capable of driving myself.”
“Maybe you can drive yourself, but I don’t buy nothing happened. I can tell something’s wrong.”
“Don’t push this,” she said, making her way to the door. “I have to go.”
“Simone, wait.” She stopped and turned. “What happened after I left you at the wharf? You were talking to Mr. Crane. Did he upset you?”
“No.” At least not in the way he was probably thinking.
“Then what? He couldn’t have told you anything about your mother if you’re going to her best friend to ask if she’s heard anything.”
Simone lowered her gaze. Dylan couldn’t be more wrong. Julian and her mother told her plenty. More than she ever wanted to know. And that was just the beginning of her day going to hell. After what happened today, she’d probably go to hell, too. Alistair. Goose bumps sprang on her arms. Her body trembled. The ninety-degree temperature and long sleeves didn’t help. She rubbed her fear-chilled limbs. Maybe she should have had that coffee after all.
“Tell me what’s bothering you. I want to help with whatever it is.” Dylan lifted her downcast chin and brushed away the wisp of hair that fell over her eye. She willed her legs not to buckle from the tenderness of his touch. What was he doing to her? “You can trust me, Simone. I promise.”
The caring in his eyes and sincerity in his tone struck a chord. She needed to trust someone, and he was there. “Okay, I’ll tell you.” She took a breath. “This afternoon, I…”
Gwen and Ethan’s arrival ended Simone’s attempt at true confessions. She pressed her hand to her pounding heart. What was she thinking? Sharing details of her day would be crazy. Thank God for that interruption.
“I thought that was you.” Gwen waddled over and gave Dylan a hug. “What are you doing in Harmony?”
“I came into town when I heard about your mom’s wedding. Thought I’d run into Fox.” Dylan released Gwen and caressed her swollen belly. “Look at you,” he said with a smile before extending his hand to Ethan. “How are you doing?”
“I’m good,” Ethan answered. “Hello, Simone.”
“Hi,” she returned. Sensing it was now or never, Simone took this moment to make her getaway. “I’m sure you all have some catching up to do, so I’m gonna take off.”
“Simone, you were about to tell me something,” Dylan said.
“It can wait.”
“No, it can’t.”
Gwen looked from one to the other. “I didn’t know you two knew each other.”
“We don’t,” Simone replied.
Dylan draped his arm over her shoulder. “Aw, she’s as modest as she
is beautiful, isn’t she? There’s no need to be shy, babe, Gwen’s
family,” he whispered way too loudly. Simone’s eyes widened with
astonishment as his glistened with teasing merriment. He hugged her
close to his side. “We met after the wedding last night. Been
practically inseparable ever since.”
“How sweet,” Gwen cooed.
Simone’s face burned from equal portions anger and embarrassment. Part of her wanted to elbow Dylan for his misleading words and invasion of her space, but a bigger part enjoyed both. She breathed in his incredible scent. Her stomach fluttered. Damn! Why was she so charmed by him? Like she didn’t already have enough problems.
“So, whose wedding was this?” Ethan asked.
“You two don’t know?” Dylan questioned.
“Know what? Rebecca and Julian’s wedding for yesterday was postponed. Who else got married?”
They didn’t know.
Simone and Dylan exchanged glances. He lowered his arm. An awkward silence loomed.
“Okay, what is it? What’s with the looks?” Gwen questioned, rubbing the front of her distended abdomen as Ethan helped her into a chair. “First, Chad practically runs over us as we’re coming in, and now…”
“You—you saw Chad?” Simone broke in.
“We saw a blur,” Ethan answered. “I tried to go after him, but it didn’t look like he was in much mood to talk. He seemed upset about something.”
Simone grunted. “That’s putting it mildly.”
“What’s going on? Who got married?”
Gwen smiled. “Eve? That’s wonder-- Wait. She and your father just...”
“Just got divorced, yes. Apparently, she’s been in love with someone else for a long time, and they didn’t want to be apart a moment longer.” She chewed nervously on her bottom lip. “I’m surprised you haven’t heard about this from Rebecca or on the news.”
“We just got into town from the Crane cabin. Avoided the news, left the cell phones off, and talked about what to expect at Gwen’s pre-natal checkup in the morning. Since she was craving a banana nut muffin, we stopped here before going home. Why would Eve’s wedding be on the news, and how would Rebecca know? She’s in Paris for a dress fitting.”
“No, she’s not. My guess is she’s still in one of the guesthouses on the Crane estate. Look, there’s no easy way to say this, so I’m just going to say it. Julian married my mother yesterday.”
Gwen’s jaw dropped. “What?” she and Ethan exclaimed.
“Yes. And after the ceremony, Alistair told them, and all assembled, Chad is their long missing, presumed dead son. When all was said an done, Chad was totally incensed with everyone and Mom told Julian she wanted an annulment.”
“I showed up right after everything went down,” Dylan added.
“This is crazy,” Ethan said through incredulous laughter. “Simone, you are kidding, right?”
She shook her head. “I wish. Thanks to Alistair Crane, there are a lot of miserable people in Harmony right now.”
“No wonder Chad’s so upset. He and Whitney…”
Gwen struggled to get up. “I have to get to Mother,” she said, as Ethan assisted her to her feet. “Dylan, I hope we see you again before you go.”
Dylan nodded. “I’m sure you will,” he said. “I plan to stick around for a while.”
Simone chose not to read into that statement, even as Dylan flashed that disarming smile. Once Gwen and Ethan made their exit, she quickly followed suit. “I need to be going, too,” she said.
“Whoa, whoa!” Dylan raced ahead of her and blocked the door. “I won’t argue with you, but I am going with you.”
He was taking this white knight thing too far. “Dylan.”
“Before Gwen and Ethan showed up, you were going to confide in me. I won’t push you to talk, Simone, but you need to unload whatever this is weighing you down, and my shoulders are a lot broader than yours. Keep that in mind, because I’m going to be a friend to you whether you like it or not.”
She liked it more than she wanted to admit. “Why do you care?”
Dylan shrugged. “I just do.” He opened the door and stepped aside. “After you.”
Julian’s BMW crawled to a stop a half block from the Bennett house. Eve took a deep breath to steady her nerves as Julian made his way to the passenger side and opened the door. The muggy heat of the summer evening hit her full force. How symbolic. She was leaving air-conditioned luxury and her loving, romantic escape with Julian for the brutal elements of the season and a presentation of lies to her family and friends. A trip from Heaven to Hell. Damn that Alistair.
Eve squeezed Julian’s hand as he helped her out. As expected, the seldom-used street, the scenic route from town, was deserted. “Are you ready?” she asked.
Julian pulled her into the circle of his arms. “Mrs. Crane, I am always ready.”
“You know what I mean.”
“Yes, my love, I do,” he said with a kiss. “I’m ready. I’d rather pretend to be arguing with you than actually arguing with you any day.”
“Me, too, but I still hate it. I’m going to be mean to you in there, so I wanted to apologize ahead of time.”
“We’re pretending. Eve. There’s no need to apologize.” He held her close. A playful smile curled his lips. Mischief danced in his brown eyes. “If it makes you feel any better, we can have a real make up session after we’re done.”
“I would like nothing more,” Eve said, claiming his lips in a sweet, tender kiss. “For now, it’s time for Act Two.”
“You sure you don’t want to ride over with me?” He took a step back and tugged on his shirt. “You always heat me up, but it’s a bit thick out here, yes?”
“Yes, a bit.” Eve rubbed the back of her neck. Her hair felt like a blanket against her skin. She should have worn it up. “But, it’s a short walk over,” she said. “Besides, they can’t see us arrive together, that’s why we’re here in the first place, remember?”
He nodded. “Indeed I do. I guess it’s showtime.”
After one last kiss, Julian returned to his car and Eve proceeded to the Bennett house. Once they were in their places, she rang the bell, and gave Julian the go ahead. The things they did for love.
“Eve!” Julian slammed the car door and stomped up the driveway. “Where the hell have you been? I’ve been worried sick!”
Grace and Sam would have to be deaf not to hear this. Eve inched her ear to the door. Approaching footsteps. She took a step back and slipped Julian a thumbs up. “Are you following me?”
“If I were following you, I’d have found you before now! Where were you?”
“That’s my business!”
The rattle of the doorknob turned Eve around. Cool air, baking tomato soup cake, and Grace’s teary eyes greeted her. Guilt stabbed her heart. First, she succumbed to Ivy’s blackmail, and now she was lying to Grace again. When would she stop hurting her best friend?
Grace pulled her into a fierce hug. “Eve, we’ve been so worried. Are you okay?”
“Yes, Grace, I’m fine.” Eve looked over her shoulder at Julian at the conclusion of the hug. “I think I’m in shock, that’s all.”
“You’re in shock?” Julian bellowed. “You have any idea how I spent my wedding night, Eve?”
Eve bit back a smile. Did she ever. “You have only yourself to blame for that, Julian.”
Sam appeared at the door. “Eve, Simone’s here,” he said, scowling at Julian.
“Simone?” she said in her best surprised tone.
“Yes. You go inside with Grace,” he said ushering them in, “I’ll take care of Julian.”
“You’ll take care of me?” Julian clicked his tongue. “Right.”
“Leave Eve alone!”
“Eve’s been alone long enough, and so have I.” Julian forced his way into the house, but Sam kept him from going too far. “You’re my wife, Eve. I love you, and you are coming home with me. I will not sleep alone tonight! Do you hear me?”
“Boston hears you, Julian.”
Eve ambled into the living room and spotted Simone on the far side standing next to a tall, dark-haired young man. An attractive young man. Was that the infamous Dylan? Drawing closer, Eve noticed her daughter didn’t look herself. With her arms folded across her chest and her hands moving up and down the length of her upper arms, Simone seemed tense, unnerved, and she wouldn’t look up. She couldn’t be chilly, the house was comfortable, and she was wearing long sleeves. Did she tell him the truth of this?
Before Eve could reach Simone, Ivy rolled up looking much like a lamb being led to slaughter, pale and scared.
A quick shake of her head stopped the woman cold. Ivy closed her
mouth and lowered her gaze. She played contrite well, but Eve wasn’t
moved. The perpetually smug blonde was worried, and with good reason,
but now was not her time to be exposed; especially with Grace right
there. Ivy would just have to squirm a little longer. At present, she
had other things on her mind. Eve turned her attention to her daughter.
“Julian, I want you out of my house!” Sam ordered, his voice loud, booming.
“Bennett, save your breath! And if you’re thinking about arresting me, think again. I’ll have that badge before you take it out of your pocket.” Julian stormed into the living room. “I’m not leaving here without my wife.”
The shouting snapped Eve out of her worry. Simone promised not to tell their secret, and Eve trusted she didn’t. Why the young man was with her, she couldn’t begin to guess. Maybe he wasn’t. For all she knew, he was a friend of Jessica’s.
Slipping back into her role, Eve stepped over to Julian and met him with an angry glare. “Stop calling me that,” she said.
“Calling you what? My wife? That’s what you are.”
“Not for long.”
“You love me, Eve. I won’t let you get an annulment.”
Eve scoffed. “You won’t let me?”
“You heard me! Simone, talk to your mother,” Julian directed, turning to the young woman. “Tell her—” He stopped speaking and pointed. “What is he doing here?”
Eve closed her eyes. That was definitely Dylan. Lord, please don’t let Julian blow this with his mistrust of that young man.
Dylan waved. “Nice to see you again, too, Mr. Crane.” He walked over to Eve and extended his hand. “It’s a pleasure to finally meet you, Doctor,” he said with a smile. “Dylan Crestfield.”
Eve returned his smile and handshake. He seemed nice enough. “Hello,” she said.
“Why is he here?” Julian repeated, his wary gaze fixed on Dylan.
Simone released a haggard breath. “For goodness sake, Julian, calm down,” she said, moving over to them. “Dylan knew I was worried about Mom when after we ran into you I still didn’t have any news. He offered to drive me over here to ask Mrs. Bennett if she heard anything before taking me to the movies to cheer me up. Isn’t that right, Dylan?”
Dylan blinked his eyes, and after a moment of hesitation, nodded. “Uh, yeah, yeah, we’re going to the movies,” he said, before hightailing it back to other side of the room.
Simone’s explanation sounded plausible and Julian seemed to buy it, but Eve didn’t, and Dylan’s dazed expression and quick retreat confirmed her suspicions. A trip to the movies didn’t bring him here and something other than not being happy about lying had Simone upset. But what?
“Mom, your marriage to Julian came out of the blue, and I’m still coming to terms with it, but I know you love him as much as he obviously loves you.” Simone took Eve’s hand and joined it with Julian’s. “You have to work this out. It will be hard, but you can do it. Please, don’t let Alistair win.” Simone looked from one to the other. Determination burned in her eyes. “Whatever you do, you can’t let that hateful man win,” she charged, her tone stern, emphatic. “He is pure evil, and you can’t let him destroy what you and Julian have. You just can’t.”
Though aware of the gist of what Simone would say, the passion behind the words surprised Eve, and seemed to take Julian aback, too. Where did this fire about Alistair come from?
Julian cleared his throat. “Th-- thank you, Simone,” he stammered. Simone nodded and backed away. “Eve, you’d be wise to listen to your daughter. I love you, I won’t give you an annulment, and I won’t let you let Father destroy us. He kept us from our son for years, don’t let that old bastard keep us apart any longer than he already has.” He gave her hand a gentle pull. “Now, come, let’s go.”
Eve snatched her hand away. “You don’t get it, Julian. Alistair didn’t destroy us or keep us from each other and our son, you did. I do love you, but I liken my loving you to an alcoholic loving vodka. He loves the way it looks and the way it makes him feel, but if he keeps it in his life, it will eventually destroy him. You’re my vodka, Julian, my addiction, but I won’t let you destroy me.”
“Eve, darling, how can you make such a warped analogy of your love for me by comparing it to an alcoholic and vodka? You know that’s not true. And everything that happened to us is Alistair’s fault.” He held out his hand. “Stop being silly and come home with me.”
“Silly?” She slapped away his hand. “Julian, I’m not going anywhere
with you, and I will get my annulment.”
“We both will,” she said. “I’m going to my room at the B&B.” Eve extended her hand to Simone. She would get to the bottom of what was bothering her daughter and then she and Julian would ‘make up’. “Come with me, sweetie, we need to talk.”
Simone shook her head. “No, we don’t. I’m fine.”
“Talk to your mom, Simone,” Dylan urged. “We can catch a later show.”
Eve smiled. Julian was wrong about that young man. He really seemed to care about Simone and her well-being.
“Actually, I think my mother needs to talk to her husband.”
“I agree with Simone, Eve. I think you need to talk to your husband,” Julian echoed.
“And I think you need to leave,” Sam announced. “You heard Eve. I always knew her marrying you was a mistake, now she knows and is correcting it. Maybe she and T.C. can even work things out.”
Eve rolled her eyes. There was no chance of that happening, but she admired Sam’s loyalty to T.C. He was a friend till the end.
Taking Julian by the arm, Sam led him to the door. “Now, I want you and your Crane weight the hell out of my house. And if you continue to harass Eve, I’ll have her file a restraining order.”
Julian jerked his arm away. “Restraining order? You can’t really believe a piece of paper is going to keep me from my wife.” He laughed. “But maybe you do. To even think Eve would go back to T.C. proves you’re a bigger moron than I thought.”
“You son of a -- ” Sam’s ringing cell phone prevented him from saying any more. He checked the caller I.D. “The station.” He glowered at Julian. “I’m not done with you yet.”
Julian shivered. “I’m petrified.”
Sam walked to a distant corner and slammed the phone to his ear. “Chief Bennett.”
“I think now is a good time to leave,” Simone said. “Dylan, let’s go.”
“Honey, we really need to talk,” Eve stressed.
Dylan nodded. “Yeah, Simone, you need to talk to your mother.”
“For the last time, I don’t need to—”
“He was what!"
Sam’s loud reaction broke into Simone’s words. He turned around, his eyes fixed on Julian. “Yes, I’ll be there as soon as I can,” he said.
Eve glanced at Julian. He did a subtle shrug.
Ivy rolled up to Sam as he strode to the middle of the room. She touched his hand. “Is something—”
Grace stepped in front of Ivy and caressed Sam’s cheek. Eve smiled. She loved her friend taking charge. “Did something happen?” she asked.
Sam clasped his hands together. “Yes, sweetheart, something did,” he
answered, still staring at Julian.
“Why the hell are you looking at me?” Julian snapped. Eve understood his irritation. She found Sam’s scrutiny off-putting, too.
“Because your father has been rushed to the hospital.”
Gasps filled the room. Julian zeroed in on Eve before returning his attention to Sam. “What?”
“Yeah. Somebody had enough of the old man and bashed his head in.
The doctors don’t think he’ll make it through the night.” Sam stepped
up to Julian. Eve’s heart dropped to her stomach. This was not good.
“Tell me something, Julian, where were you today?”